Feeling Poor

Giacomo Todeschini argues that feeling poor at the end of the Western Christian middle ages was a very complicated sentiment. Actually, poverty and privation of wealth could be perceived and represented very differently. This difference depended on the social subjects experiencing the status of poverty as well as on the attitude toward poverty characterizing spiritual and political authorities. It is possible to distinguish three very different situations indicated through the words “poor” and “poverty” in the theological and normative written sources between the thirteenth and the fifteenth century. Poverty could be described as the despicable condition experienced by dreadful and infamous persons, as the pathetic condition distinguishing pious and socially weak subjects, or as the honorable condition typical of those who bravely made the choice to live as Christ and the apostles. At a first glance, this difference is basically depending on the presence or absence of the religious choice of living poorly.  In this perspective, voluntary poverty was obviously and absolutely unalike from ordinary and daily lack of economic goods. Nonetheless, the religious choice of poverty was only one among the circumstances defining privation as something specifically differing from common neediness. In other words, feeling either proud or ashamed of one’s own poverty could derive from various social, historical, economic and subjective attitudes. The social quality of persons (qualitas personarum) living in poverty was the ambiguous term of reference separating the disgusting and anonymous poor from the respectable indigent. (Text: G. T.)


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